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Why ‘Joker’ Could Trigger Some Viewers With Mental Illness


Be warned, this article has some spoilers.

I’m not a huge fan of pulling apart movies for the sake of telling people why they should be angered by them. I generally believe if a movie offended you, just don’t watch it again and don’t recommend it to others. I feel that sometimes, people are offended by things and that’s the nature of life.

So this article is not for the sake of telling people anything along those lines. I went to this movie knowing it would tackle mental illness and having bipolar disorder myself, I thought it would be interesting. Well, I didn’t know what I was in for.

My personal opinion of “Joker” is that I loved it. I thought it was a deeply disturbing character study that, well… disturbed me. But I like disturbing movies. And I thought I might let some folks on The Mighty know what they’re in for if they’re curious.

Arthur’s character in the beginning just wants one thing: help. Help with his dark thoughts. Help in the form of more medication and better therapy. His life is overwhelming and lonely.  This is a trigger point for some people. How many of us haven’t struggled with this issue, begged for that kind of help before and perhaps not received it?

Arthur discusses suicide and puts a gun to his head many times, in gesture and with a real gun. He does these things with a smile and with laughter — another trigger for many of us.

We learn he is mentally ill and has been in a state hospital. He also has a history of significant childhood trauma. Scenes and discussions of hospitals and abuse occur, which many people can relate to. This is another trigger point in the movie to watch out for.

With all of this backstory, Arthur eventually takes his suicidal impulses out on others. He goes off his meds because the state cuts funding for them and for his therapy. He goes to a dark and disturbing place and becomes a very ugly, homicidal person. He says in the film that this is because he is forgotten and neglected in his mental illness.

Some people with mental illness may be offended and put off by this. Most of us would never be capable of such carnage, but this film does depict and outright declare untreated mental illness in Arthur as one of the primary drivers of his homicidal behavior.

Now, I work in the mental health field and have seen untreated mental illness can indeed cause some very upsetting symptoms and behaviors. But these symptoms don’t represent the norm and most of us with mental illness look nothing like Arthur.

Arthurs are one in a billion, that’s why he’s the Joker. He’s not meant to be a common person who struggles with a mental illness. I’d love to believe the average Joe out there could see that. But with recent discussion in the news about putting people in mental institutions as a way to prevent mass shootings, this is a complicated film. It very well may leave those with mental illness feeling attacked.

Now, I didn’t feel that way, but I can understand if some did. It was hard to swallow but I still loved it. I won’t change my mind on that. I thought it was well acted and thought-provoking. But that’s my viewpoint.  I just hope it doesn’t cement other false viewpoints about “dangerous mentally ill people.”

One can only hope, right?

So if you have a thick skin and want to go for it, it was very well acted, violent, dark and thought-provoking — for me at least. But it’s not for everyone. I think people will love it or hate it. I have a feeling even this article will evoke some strong feelings in either direction, which is OK.

At least we’re talking.

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